Senior law and accountancy leaders attended a masterclass workshop in London last week. The session looked at how to ease personal transitions (individual change) whilst driving organisational change (primarily through cultural transformation). As well as rational approaches (we considered several change management methodologies including Kotter’s), both elements involve engaging emotions and taking people on the change journey. We have to say goodbye to the way things were (“Let it go”) before building enthusiasm to achieve the vision (“Let it grow”). Nurture a change management movement – From “Let it go” to “Let it grow”.
Delegates’ change challenges
The delegates’ change challenges included:
- adoption of a new practice management system
- growth of the practice
- creating new services
- entering new markets
- managing integration after a merger
- changing attitudes and behaviours in the delivery of the client experience
A key theme was shifting from a push approach which is likely to generate resistance to a pull approach which encourages engagement and action. Dealing with resistance to change (kimtasso.com)
Supporting individual change – “Let it go”
Change involves heads, hearts and hands. Change Management – Heads, Hearts and Hands (kimtasso.com). Emotions play a greater role than often anticipated. Much of the work in creating a change movement is understanding how people feel about the past and the prospect of change in the future. Particularly asking “How will this affect me?”.
Lewin, an early writer on individual change, talked about the need to “unfreeze” people from the way they usually behave. This requires the creation of psychological safety (described here: How to facilitate groups – 2 (Herding cats in professional services) (kimtasso.com))
Lewin’s model of change:
- Unfreeze (reduce threat and create psychological safety)
Most people are familiar with the change process – the range of emotions that people experience when faced with a major change: change process – Emotions when reacting to change (kimtasso.com). But less people are familiar with how to support people through the emotional rollercoaster.
Another key influencer in this area – early psychologist William Bridges, talks about the need to allow people to disconnect with the past (to reflect on the loss of the way things were) before they can embrace a new future. Your personal transition – Endings, neutral zone and new beginnings (kimtasso.com).
Each person is an individual and will react to change differently. So we considered some personality and generational differences to help navigate the likely responses. People change at different rates too. We also mentioned the adaptive third: Change management and creativity – the adaptive third (kimtasso.com)
Create a movement not a mandate – “Let it grow”
A Harvard Business Review article argued that rather than enforcing change with a mandate, leaders should help create a movement Changing Company Culture Requires a Movement, Not a Mandate (hbr.org). The author argues:
- Start by framing the issue in terms that stir emotion and incite action (an urgent call to action)
- Mobilize more supporters by demonstrating quick wins (spotlight success)
- Broadcast wins to a wider audience by leveraging employees’ social networks – use symbolism and pockets of innovation to keep momentum going
- Create safe havens
- Start with actions, not new mission statements or company structures, because culture change only happens when people take action
Leaders are change catalysts. They need to lead by example as they are change role models. They must show their people the change they want to see. To demonstrate the ideas in action.
Listen to the custodians of culture
Resistance is a natural response to any change.
Some argue that all behaviour is driven by positive intent. People don’t resist change just to be difficult. They may experience trepidation and fear (fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of learning, fear of loss of status or identity etc). They may be trying to protect the firm’s legacy. To retain those things that they believe are core to the firm’s past success. So we could reframe resistance as the need for continuity or reassurance.
One of the delegates mentioned they operate a dual business model. Where some actions follow a “business as usual” model: The continuity and stewardship role. Whilst others press forward with the future vision – how the firm adapts to tackle emerging challenges and opportunities.
Take everyone on the change journey
Throughout the session we considered emotions. The emotions of the management team leading the change. And the emotions of those who are affected by the change.
Humans dislike change and uncertainty. It can prompt the fight, flight, freeze or faint threat (or stress) response. This can cause disconcerting physical effects such as increased pulse, different breathing and even jitters. When prolonged, the effects are exhausting and we reach change fatigue quickly.
Issues in change programmes arise when change is discussed solely in a rational way. Naturally it is important that the leadership team communicates the rationale for the change. And conveys the benefits. And on multiple occasions, rather than just once. Culture figured in our discussions. We discussed how to create psychological safety so that employees felt comfortable sharing their views. So we can engage emotions.
Some tactics for engaging employees on the change journey:
- Co-create a vision
- Explain the challenge or the opportunity. Describe the desired outcome. Ask everyone for their views and ideas. Build enthusiasm for a joint vision of the future
- Promote dialogue
- Too often change communications are one-way. From the top. Yet communication needs to be two-way. A dialogue. This enables people to align their views – to chunk up or chunk down to common aims and needs.
- Change the environment
- Move discussions from online meetings or the office. Provide a different physical space for discussions. One delegate shared that they often have groups take a walk together to discuss things. The lack of eye-to-eye contact can be less threatening. And if the walk is out in the open, they will also feel comforted and energised by connecting with nature.
- Break down silos
- Being in silos can lead to in-group thinking – where other teams are seen as outsiders. This can lead to unhealthy competition. A key challenge is to unify the firm and create “one firm” thinking. Organising cross-firm, cross-office and cross-department sessions can help break down silos
- Enlist resistors
- Another tactic is to invite key resistors and saboteurs to be part of the change team. Their expertise, experience and insights are then built into plans and ensures their concerns are acknowledged and addressed.
- Use roundtables and surveys
- Provide mechanisms where everyone can voice their views and be heard. Although delegates pointed out the need to avoid raising unrealistic expectations
- Lead from the front
- Senior people are important role models. They need to walk the talk. When people see their leaders exhibiting the sought-after behaviours they are likely to emulate them. Delegates commented on their responsibility to maintain a positive frame of mind at all time – see Emotional contagion, delegation, coaching and team meetings (kimtasso.com)
- Ignite change at the periphery
- Rather than trying to get everyone to change at the same time, select a (small) group and let them lead the change. Once change is ignited at the periphery, it can spread across the firm
- Create a shadow board
- Tap into the feelings and ideas of a younger generation by allowing them to tackle the same challenges as the main board
- Help the future leaders of the firm experience what it feels like to be in the driving seat. Develop their systemic thinking. Ease them into new ways of thinking and skill sets.
- Tackle the “untouchables”
- Often there are “power partners” who ignore the call to change. They carry on as usual. If the leadership team ignores those who diverge from the agreed path then others will feel they too have permission to do the same.
See this post on EAST to nudge change The EAST framework for behavioural nudges in marketing? (kimtasso.com)
Avoid overwhelm with a focus on outcome and key priorities
Delegates experienced what being overwhelmed feels like. They felt tired and confused. Some were tempted to “switch off”. There are so many things to consider during a change programme. There are potentially many interconnecting elements across multiple projects. Focus on the desired outcome rather than just the process.
They felt concerned about how they will continue to maintain the business whilst creating change for the future. This is how it can feel for employees on the change journey. This is empathy.
There was recognition of the need for occasions where everyone can stop and reflect on all that has been achieved. To celebrate the bright spots, highlights and successes. To pause for consolidation rather than pressing on with relentless change. Many of the change models examined had a stage for consolidation, reflection and integration. A chance to recharge the batteries and let things bed in before the next tranche of change begins.
A structured change process will provide an overall path through the chaos. So focus on a few key things:
- Convey a consistent, positive vision of where the change is leading and its benefits (vision and expected outcome)
- Ensure people are engaged and excited by the changes. Answer “What’s in it for me?” Listen. Keep the emotional tone positive (engagement)
- Develop an overall framework for change and focus on what needs to happen today (prompt action)
On the last point, PWC suggested in Getting to the Critical Few Behaviors That Can Drive Cultural Change (strategy-business.com):
- Know what you are trying to accomplish
- Define the behaviours (specific, repeatable and applicable to everyone) that will contribute to the goals
- Prioritise the critical few behaviours (those that are easiest to implement with the highest impact). Implementation criteria include:
- Speed of results
- Ease of implementation
- Validate your choices with input from formal and informal leaders
- Drive, reinforce and measure those behaviours
At the end of the session, delegates noted that they felt anticipation, happiness, hope and faith. They also felt ready to enable and empower their people.
Understand Generation Z
Delegates were keen to learn more about Generation Z – those after Millennials. Generation X were born between 1965 and 1980. Millennials (Generation Y) were born between 1981 and 1996 (aged 27 to 42 in 2023)
Where Millennials end and Generation Z begins | Pew Research Center key points include:
- Generation Z were born after 1997 (aged 26 in 2023)
- They were born into the “Always on” internet environment (IPhones were launched 2007)
- Social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment is assumed
- Shaped by the recession of 2007-2009 and Covid Pandemic
- Racially diverse and from mixed families – 16% in the US from LGBTQ+ community
- Most likely to live in urban areas
- Delaying or foregoing marriage
- First true digital native generation
- Prefer anonymous forms of social media with limited audiences
- More pragmatic and earlier to mature
- Less likely to engage in underage drinking or unsafe activities
- Resourceful, independent and good at maintaining work-life balance
- Independent and autonomous (so avoid micromanaging)
- Value work-life balance (respect their time)
- Technologically adept (respect their experience)
- Show flexibility (provide opportunities for learning)
- OK with informality (communicate openly and honestly)
- Direct and open to feedback (provide honest and accurate feedback)
- Work well collaboratively
- Calm and collected
Change management resources
Change management books
Change management – Change Catalyst book review by Kim Tasso September 2018
Change management articles
change management (kimtasso.com) Change Management Standard August 2022